Tuesday, 29 May 2012

If you go down to the woods today, take a high-viz jacket

A snapshot of the kind of planting that wins 
you Best in Show

I always enjoy Chelsea Flower Show but this year was a real treat. Just when you think the standard can't get any higher, Chelsea, unlike any other flower show I go to, raises its game.

A detail of the DMZ Forbidden Garden
Like fashion, there are new themes in gardening and this year it was the formality of topiary juxtaposed with thrilling wilderness that dominated. I loved it: everywhere I looked, there were my kind of gardens, less your fantasies of designer concrete and water features that look like a giant's bathroom and more your meadows, mosses and murmuring brooks. Lovely. We even had a garden designed by Jihae Hwang that gave eloquence to the Korean demilitarised zone (DMZ) and how nature is triumphant even in the face of the destructive power of war. I loved the detail of this military water can draped over a branch.
Japanese gardening at its best

The Yorkshire garden

The garden that attracted everyone's attention and won its designer Cleve West his gob-smacking Best in Show for the second year running was the Brewin Dolphin Garden. It is a beautiful place that gives you classic meadow (pictured at the top of this piece) with enviable hard landscaping.

I wonder who the explorer was?
We then made a bee line for the artisan gardens, which are my favourites, and this year's winner didn't disappoint. Ishihara Kazuyuki's Satoyama Life was a work of art with crafty use of texture and moses rather than flowers that depicted the gardens of the northeast of Japan most hit by the earthquake and Tsunami. As Ishihara said of his garden, it was to symbolise the plight of his people and the hope that their world can and should be restored. He went on to say, "We lost so much beautiful forest, but I am already involved in plans to help replant it and this is my way of saying we will bring back the beautiful views of trees that we once had. I am determined to rebuild Japan as a gardener."

It must have been given a run for top marks by Tracy Foster's Brontës' Yorkshire Garden that was also a total dream of moorland and Cathy's window, wild and yet delicate.

I was also drawn to the tantalising Plant Explorer's Garden by the Scottish Agricultural College, which had one of those romantic buildings only Chelsea seem to summon from who knows where. It had a charming water feature constructed out of a water pipe that grew from the ground and didn't do much more than leak but gave as cheerful a passage of water as any more formal water feature I have ever seen.

Reuse and recycling are becoming ever more widespread themes at Chelsea with a Herbert Smith-sponsored Garden for Water Aid, dedicated to the theme of water management and growing in drought. I loved the vegetables growing in this garden and the red earth, which like everything at Chelsea, had come a very long way.

Having done the artisan gardens, hubbie and I trotted back to the big show gardens, stopping off to buy an antique asparagus knife, which I have already deployed at the allotment. 

Another truly lovely show garden was the BBC's Chris Beardshaw's Bradstone Panache Garden with a focus on azaleas and rhododendrons that brought a fresh look at these quite old fashioned plants. This was a garden of abundance, which really challenged the idea of its temporary nature. It looked like it had been there forever. Another feature that I really liked was its wide use of colour - gone are the acres of similarly coloured gardens with one year being all about purple and the next white. This garden gave us the full spectrum of blowsy colour and it looked stunning, richly deserving a gold medal.

Looking at the acers I decided to incorporate an acer into my new garden though I am sad to report it's a real favourite with the rabbits so I am not sure how long it is for this world.
Joe Swift proving he can do as well as teach

Are those legs?
Moving on we took in Joe Swift's gold winner the Homebase Teenager Cancer Trust Garden, another victory for the Gardener's World team. The use of redwood was lovely and although imposing was expertly softened by the complementary planting. We did wonder what all that wood would look like in a few years time, especially as the next door neighbour at our old house had a similar structure built which had quickly become quite tatty looking, but hey these are fantasies aren't they?

Talking of fantasies there was a real shocker in the garden that lay central to the new fresh themed gardens. These were ones where the designers were told to rip up the rule book and then only one of the category got gold. One that drew everyone's eye and not necessarily for the right reasons was the commissioned garden Glamour Gardens with its psychedelic disco-inspired octopus type thing. Not to my taste but certainly eye-catching. 

As the day drew to a close and I had been able to grill the nice man at the David Austin stand in the Grand Marquee about the right roses for my new space, we treated ourselves to a rocking recliner from a garden shop called Pepe. It was more comfy than it looks and I have the perfect spot for it. The fact that it can be left out all year round is a bonus too. Andrew, the charming chap who sold it to us, told us the funniest story after I commented on the tannoy announcers increasingly shrill inducements to get folk to head for the exits. Apparently on the last night, no one is allowed to start bringing in their vehicles and pick up their stuff until everyone remaining at Chelsea has a high-viz jacket on, something our friend with the microphone becomes hysterical about as the end of each show draws near. Last year, everyone was poised to get going and get out but could not start as one new exhibitor didn't have her jacket on. When remonstrated to by the stewards, the legend has it that the increasingly harassed woman said she didn't have a high-viz jacket, but she did have a lemon cardy in her car that she could pop and get. "Would that do?" Only at Chelsea.
The Daily Telegraph garden designed by Sarah Price

ONLY DAYS TO GO!!! Remember, if you haven't already, please sponsor my 14-year-old son Sam whose epic bike ride to Paris is coming up in aid of Street Child Sierra Leone. Go to the link for details of how to support him. Thank you.

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